Telecommunications company Spark says it is almost certain to refuse any warrantless request from New Zealand's spying agencies for information about its customers - unless changes are made.

The company wants to be compelled to release details to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) or the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB) rather than make a judgement call about whether information was relevant to any investigation.

If Parliament does not adopt this approach, Spark says it is likely to refuse any future requests about its three million customers and spies will have to produce a warrant for the information.

The company made the comments this morning before the Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee, which is considering reforms to the laws which govern the spying agencies.


Under the existing law, these agencies can approach telcos or other businesses to ask for information about their customers without a warrant.

It is up to those companies to make a judgement call about whether the information should be passed on to the spying agencies.

This approach will be preserved in the spying reforms being considered by Parliament.

However, Spark has joined Vodafone in calling for their discretion to be removed and for spies to make the call about whether information should be released.

"In effect, the bill asks us to choose between protecting our customers' privacy and personal information or assisting our country's intelligence agencies with protecting New Zealand's security," Spark general manager of regulatory affairs John Wesley-Smith told the committee.

"We don't believe private organisations are best placed to make that decision. We don't think our customers want us making that decision.

"It's a decision that should rightly be taken by Parliament."

Wesley-Smith said MPs needed to provide certainty about what personal information intelligence agencies should be able to access without a warrant.

Any warrantless powers should be clearly defined, not delegated to private businesses, and have independent oversight, he said.

Spark would comply with lawful requirements to provide information," he said.

"But where there isn't a lawful requirement to do so we shouldn't be expected to."

He added: "[Spies] face the risk, and frankly we are seeing this risk more and more, that customer-facing organisations such as ourselves will decide that we are not interested in making these decisions and we will take policies that we are not going to provide information without a warrant."

National MP and committee chair Mark Mitchell said the committee was seeking advice from officials on the issue.

The reforms followed a broad-sweeping intelligence review by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy, released in March with 107 recommendations and proposing a single piece of legislation to cover both spying agencies.

The most controversial recommendation is to allow the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders without requiring a warrant to do so on the behalf of other parties.